Friday, May 18, 2012

Time flies...just like the birds!

Courting catbird

I can't believe it's already the 18th of May. I have been outside with my binoculars every chance I can get, as May means Migration Madness and the best birding of the year. And I still feel like I'm behind the eight ball, as I haven't seen a fraction of the species I'd hoped for, and my year list is suffering horribly as a result...and as far as blogging goes, what can I say? Time flies when you're chasing birds.

So here's my month-long recap, thus far (to capture the frenzied spirit of May birding, I have chosen as musical accompaniment Darius Milhaud's "Le Bouef sur le Toit." Right click to open a new window to listen while you read.):

I believe in yellow-headed blackbirds

Early in the month, my parents came for a short visit, and I decided the most fun we could possibly have would involve looking for yellow-headed blackbirds, which had been seen just a few days before at the Hennepin-Hopper wetlands in Putnum county. For those who have been reading this blog for a while, you may recall that previous searches for the blackbirds had come to naught, and, as it turned out, I was not the only one who had been frustrated by the yellow-headed little varmints.

"It's a wasted trip," my father announced as we drove north to the wetlands. "They don't exist."

"Every time you say that, a yellow-headed blackbird disappears!" I admonished him.

My husband Greenturtle had also decided to come along, and was recording our conversation on his smart phone, so he could play back my dad saying "They don't exist" over and over again, causing blackbird after blackbird to vanish into thin air.

At this point my mother and I started clapping and yelling, "I believe in yellow-headed blackbirds!" to bring them back again. By now, Greenturtle was probably rethinking his decision to come with us, but too late, as we were almost to the wetlands.

Of course, I was hoping that there'd be yellow-headed blackbirds (or YH BBs as I will be calling them for short). I think that's part of the reason I love to bird. In most areas of my life, I have become terribly jaded and cynical, but when it comes to birding...well, before every excursion, I feel like I could see just about anything. It's all possible. Just like Emily Dickinson wrote, hope is the thing with feathers. Only in my case, it's not a metaphor. It's birding.

Still, as we pulled up to the parking area and lugged ourselves, plus scopes and guidebooks, to the top of the observation tower, I was so used not to finding them that I could barely believe it when Greenturtle said, "I see one!" There were at least three, far off in the reeds and grasses (sadly, too far to get photographic evidence), but before long all four of us had viewed, to our satisfaction and the extension of our respective life lists, a YH BB of our own.

Despite this quick victory, we tarried on the tower for quite some time, as there was plenty more to see: Bonaparte's gulls, Forster's terns, American white pelicans, double-crested cormorants, mute swans.... After this glut of birds, we embarked on the trail, where Greenturtle was hoping we'd find some of the Baltimore orioles that were here this time last year.

Oriole explosion

There were at least two male Baltimore orioles fighting amongst themselves, and a pair of orchard orioles. We also saw the catbird puffing himself up while singing from the first photo, above, and many other nice birds: common yellowthroat, yellow warbler, red-headed woodpecker, rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting. Yeah, I know these are all fairly common birds in central Illinois. But I always love to see them.

Because one good tern deserves another....

Sadly, my parents could not stay very long, but since I was hyped by the previous weekend's birding, last weekend I tackled Dewitt County with enthusiasm. At the Salt Creek Wetland Project, I found some Caspian terns and juvenile bald eagles, plus a surprising number of shorebirds: greater and lesser yellowlegs, spotted sandpipers shaking their booties, and a solitary sandpiper or two. At the end of the walk I also found at least a dozen ticks doing the hokey-pokey upon my person, but luckily my arachnophobia only extends to spiders. Ticks, schmicks. I just flick them off.... To be honest, Greenturtle and I went to dinner and a movie later that evening and I found a few more to flick off in the theater, so maybe don't sit by me in the summer time, OK?

The next day, I decided to tackle the 11-mile loop at the North Fork Access of Clinton Lake, since I had vowed to do the trail at least once a month and managed to skip it entirely in April. It'! And, cutting across the bluffs of the inlet, the trail is constantly switchbacking up and down at fairly steep angles. What can I say, I'm a wuss!

But, it was time to tackle it, so I did. I finally got red-eyed vireos and some warblers, including life bird blackpoll warbler, plus ovenbird, chestnut-sided, Wilson's, and the maggies and redstarts I'd been seeing for the past couple of weekends. I am seriously bumming about being away from my old Work Place Pond at the height of spring migration. I used to see so many good birds in spring and fall, just strolling around before work in the morning, or taking a ten minute break. Alas, sages and philosophers throughout the ages have been saying, "Let it go, already!," and I shall try.

I did see some good birds, including a veery, a pair of wood thrushes, and a rare-for-the-county red-headed woodpecker (right at the spot that I always thought would be good habitat for them, by the Redneck Cabin), and suffice to say, with eleven rugged miles, I got a good workout, too!

Red-headed woodpecker

By the end of the weekend, despite my initial impression of Swinburnian excess in the profusion of greenery all around, I was still stalled at 157 for my year list, and as for the I'm counting on the fall migration! Ooops!

Yellow warblers make my heart sing

Today I got the chance to take the day off, and decided to tackle points around McLean county, hoping, of course, for the tail end of spring migration. I started off at Centennial Park in Heyworth, where I have seen green herons in years past, which, now that I am away from my Work Place Pond (cue internal lecture about Getting Over It as per sages and philosophers of yore), I have yet to see this year. No green herons, though I was pleased to find a flock of cedar waxwings. They are one of my favorite birds, and I had not seen them for a couple of months.

My next stop was the Sewer Plant, a.k.a. Kenneth Schroeder Nature Sanctuary, where I walked the entire trail for the first time.

common yellowthroat

Once again, I was treated to many of my favorites, such as common yellowthroat, yellow warbler, orchard oriole, plus a year bird, black-billed cuckoo. I rounded up my day of birding at Sugar Grove Nature Center, where Baltimore orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks thronged to the feeders, and indigo buntings filled the woodland trails. Plus a gazillion house wrens! Suddenly, it occurred to me, with the tangle of greenery and the mix of birds I was's summer already. Time's gone by so fast, and spring has already passed us.


  1. OMG, It's still Spring and tulip-time up here, and the birds are arriving by the score. Going to work is torture! People are seeing blue-headed vireos (I didn't know such a bird existed), and even bobolinks in the hayfields! One more day and I can bird! Wish I could bird with you, too, although NOT on that 11-mile-death march (well, it'd be the death of ME). Mom

  2. Emily, congrats on your Yellow-headed Blackbird! Too bad we can't trade birds. I'm hoping to get up to Hennipin some time this summer to get my lifer. I heard that they nest there. It sounds like they are not easy to find so it may take me a few tries.